“Originality is undetected plagiarism.” - William Inge
Plagiarism is a real scourge in the world of education, academia, art, and intellectual property in general, but it isn’t always easy to know how to cite reference to not be accused of plagiarism and a lot of lecturers struggle with students incorrectly referencing.
So how can you tell the difference between plagiarism and just an honest mistake?
How to Check if Something is Plagiarised?
Plagiarism wasn’t as common before the age of the internet.
How could they resist a quick copy and paste?
Students learn how to use a computer from a very young age, but they probably haven’t mastered how to correctly do their research.
A lot of students use the internet to look for information online and copy entire sentences and paragraphs from other sources without realising that it’s technically illegal.
How can you blame them when so many sites are doing the same thing?
Plagiarism is rife on the internet and a lot of students are tempted to try the same thing. As a result, lecturers and teachers can use software and tools to check for plagiarism. However, we also have a few tips to help you discover plagiarism in a student’s work, essay, or paper.
Firstly, use your intuition. Teachers, especially in primary school, secondary school, or college, know their students quite well and how they like to write.
A copied section will have expressions and vocabulary that the student doesn’t tend to use very often and may include words that they don’t understand. Teachers will quickly realise that the words weren’t written by the student. At that point, it’ll be pretty clear.
If you suspect that the work has been copied, you can always copy them yourself and put them into a search engine. At this point, you’ll find sites with this exact phrasing and you can then see which pages your student has copied from.
Which Are the Best Plagiarism Checkers?
To detect plagiarism, tutors, teachers, and lecturers can use plagiarism checkers. A plagiarism checker or tool can make finding copied work, essays, or papers much easier.
There are different types of plagiarism checkers and some allow you to compare two texts, which can be useful if a student is copying from a classmate as the software will show you the similarities.
A lot of plagiarism checkers can compare the text against online resources, which can help you see if they’ve copied from Wikipedia, for example. You can use plagiarism checkers as much as you like.
Compilatio, for example, is a popular anti-plagiarism software solution. You can use it to compare a student’s work to online resources as well as other texts that have been checked in the software. The more the software is used, the larger the database becomes and the more useful the software becomes.
For private tutors who mightn’t have access to this type of software, there are other tools you can find online. For example:
- Small SEO Tools
Some tools and solutions are better for students to check that their work isn’t plagiarism and can show them which sentences and paragraphs they may need to change.
There are also tools for the originals authors themselves. They can be used to show them which sources are copying them. A recurring problem for online authors is that duplicates and copies are hurting their online visibility.
There are also tools for teachers who’d like to check whether their students submitting copied work so everyone can find a solution that’s appropriate for them.
All of the above tools are available for free or have a trial version allowing you to use them to simply check if they’ve been copied from a digital source.
How to Check if a Digital Resource Has Been Plagiarised
Digital copies of work are easier to analyse than hard-copies for the simple reason that you don’t have to transcribe the whole text back into a computer. Just copy and paste or upload the original digital text into plagiarism software and you’re done. The program will take care of the analysis for you.
However, certain file types like PDFs don’t always let you copy the text. If this can’t be done, you might need to look for a PDF to Word converter. As a teacher, you should ask that students submit work using a file type that you can easily check for plagiarism.
More and more work is being done digitally, especially during lockdowns and school closures since students aren’t able to hand their work to their teachers in person.
However, plagiarism-checkers do have their limits. They can mislabel very common expressions as plagiarism. They can also consider quotations or citations as plagiarism, even when the student has clearly cited the source. The teacher’s job is to check what has been correctly copied and subsequently referenced and what copied content is being passed off as the student’s own work.
Furthermore, you can’t detect plagiarism from a physical resource. Students can copy from a book in the library that doesn’t have a digital copy online so teachers need to remember that even if the plagiarism-checker doesn’t find anything, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the work hasn’t been copied.
Finally, the teacher needs to know what counts as plagiarism and what doesn’t.
What To Do When a Student’s Work is Plagiarism
There needs to be a clear line between plagiarism and research. Students need to know what plagiarism is, how they can avoid it, and what the consequences are if they’re caught doing it as this will encourage them not to do it.
After all, some students may be guilty of plagiarism without even knowing it. They may forget to include quotation marks or cite reference without ever having the intention of plagiarising someone else’s work, which can be avoided by teaching them how to correctly research and reference.
When you first discover plagiarism, it’s important to first find out why the student did it. It may be because they struggled with the work. They mightn’t have been able to clearly write, analyse, or express their own ideas in the text or be confident enough in their own writing and decided to copy someone else's work to avoid looking silly.
Other students may plagiarise to make their lives easier, because they’re lazy, or because they ran out of time. Others may have struggled to find the time needed to do their homework and have copied work to avoid getting trouble for not having done it.
By understanding why they’ve copied, you can find an appropriate solution.
Of course, if they keep doing it, you may need to impose strict punishments so that they know it isn’t something that they should be doing. As always, clear communication and punishments that help the student to learn are the best options.
So should you report a student for plagiarism?
In secondary school, copied work or content can often be dealt with internally. You might need to have a meeting with the students, parents, or staff.
On the other hand, if a student copies work for official exams like GCSEs or A Levels, the issue may have to be reported and dealt with externally.
In the latter case, there’s no messing around.
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